I looked at my group members. It was a bright sunny morning. We were huddled up in the corner of our office conference room. We had to perform a short skit on the reality of everyday violence. I immediately remembered a certain example that was etched in my memory from the day I joined this organization.
Imagine a girl from a lower socio-economic status walking to school every day. She has access to education, healthcare and recreation. Now imagine a bunch of hooligans harassing her on her way to school. The harassment continues and she is forced to drop out of school. The violence on the street cut off her access to education. She stays at home and remains in the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger.
As she grows up, she has limited access to employment opportunities which pushes her further into poverty. If she becomes a mother, she might remain malnourished because she is unable to visit the primary health centre. The violence on the street cut off her access to healthcare. Remember violence constitutes not just physical, but also mental and psychological.
The idea of good quality education, healthcare and poverty alleviation can be realised once violence is nipped at its bud. None of the development efforts around the world can be entirely successful if everyday violence is not addressed at the local level.
Now, for the folks who aren’t from the development sector, let me contextualise it for you. If you are a woman, imagine some men eve-teasing you on your way to the metro station or the bus stop. You might continue going to your college or office. You might not quit. But imagine the trauma that you might undergo. Some of you already understand this scenario.
Bringing in my personal experience, I recently started to ride a Honda Activa on the streets of Delhi. Traffic and vehicles coming in the opposite direction on a one-way lane can be managed. But what about the eyes that stare? What about the horns that get honked for no reason?
What about the vehicles that overtake you rashly? With the nationwide lockdown, many took to cycling to keep themselves fit. Being a woman, try cycling without a single glare aimed at you. Almost impossible, I would say. These are a few examples of the long list of unsafe experiences women face on the streets. Hence, I ask, who owns the streets?
Why are women made to feel unsafe? Why do women have to think twice before stepping out even in broad daylight? Why do women have to tell themselves to be strong every time knowing what lies ahead?
Its 2020 and women are vilified everywhere. The cyberspace is another issue we need to extensively highlight. Just look at Bollywood actors being trolled online for allegedly consuming drugs. What if it was one of the Khans or Kapoors (the male actors)? Their fans would have come out in huge support. And yet another film like ‘Sanju’ would have been produced for a male actor to justify his side of drug abuse.
For now, let’s come back to women feeling unsafe on the streets. It’s true. It’s real. It’s frustrating at times. At the cost of sounding pessimistic, I highly doubt anything will change.
Personally, I see the solution being women having to motivate themselves to stay strong and facing odds at all costs. This might mean ignoring the glares or dealing with them, whatever the woman deems fit. But before you step out, ask yourself, who owns the streets? Is it me or those lecherous men? Who owns the streets? My determination or their perverted minds? What should I do? Quit or rise up and show who I am?